As America mourns 400,000 COVID-19 victims, North Carolina families honor loved ones

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When the lanterns lit up the reflecting pool on the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday night, symbolizing the over 400,000 Americans gone from COVID-19, Matthew Soffer was in Durham remembering his mother Bess.

Bess was 68 years old when she was taken by COVID-19 after 39 days in the hospital.

"My mom died 14 days ago on January 6," Soffer said. "Right now, my family is in grief. We're in it."
Bess Soffer's funeral had to happen over Zoom. Over 1,000 mourners logged on to pay their respects.

"The stories that are coming in about who she was just reinforce what we always knew -- that she was a caretaker," Soffer said. "She just loved people. She spent her whole life just being a friend."


Those amber lights of remembrance were reflected at the Performing Arts Center in downtown Raleigh and in the sky atop PNC Tower.

Gavin Harrison's grief is still fresh too. "My dad was Asa Harrison. He was 59 years old. He got COVID around the middle of December," he said.

The NC State graduate rushed to be at his father bedside at the hospital. Asa Harrison tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 7. He passed away one week later.
"That's what I really hope people realize is that this comes out of nowhere," Harrison said. "And you'll have it one second and then you're gone the next."

As Raleigh's shimmer wall glowed in amber tonight, ABC11 reached out to Chris Harward who couldn't bring himself to watch the remembrance on television.

"It's not that I'm reliving a funeral. But I'm reliving a very negative time. And that's hard to do," said Harward who first spoke to ABC11 last April. It was the first weeks of the pandemic when COVID-19 was new, PPE was in short-supply and Harward's 76-year-old mother, Judy, had just become the first COVID-19 death recorded in Durham County.

All these months later, the vaccine is going out and Harward can't help but wonder what if.

'Really hit home for us:' Durham man shares story after mom dies from COVID-19 related illness

"There have been many times when I've looked back and said, 'You know, I wonder if she was around today and could've gotten the vaccine, could she have made it?' It's something you think about," Harward said.

On this night, the nation paused to remember the neighbors taken by the pandemic, there was a common theme repeated by these grieving families in the Triangle as the vaccine starts to slowly roll out: Keep taking COVID seriously; Wear your mask to protect yourself and protect others.
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